the essence, you need to reach the majority of the population."

The EAS also has little redundancy built into it. All Alert will be highly redundant, so if one system goes down, there will be several available to back it up.

A Customizable Solution

All Alert is not just about the technology involved.

The federal team already successfully demonstrated the ability to receive, broadcast and rebroadcast simulated emergency messages from FEMA to participants from the broadcast, cable and wireless telecommunications industry, and emergency management officials.

Instead, the challenges behind All Alert revolve around bringing parties together to collaborate on building a backbone that will allow the public to determine, which alerts to receive and over which devices.

"The long-term plan is [that] citizens will be able to decide which types of warnings they want to receive," said Ward. "The ability to receive warnings will ultimately be built into all kinds of electronics, and when a warning applies to a person, it would be relayed to them. The technology is already there. This is all about building the backbone."

That's where the Amber Alert system can help, said Todd Sander, incoming director of the Amber Alert 911 Consortium, explaining that the idea is to build All Alert on the Amber Alert infrastructure.

"Amber Alert becomes important because it provides a platform for states and the federal government to work together," Sander said. "My first and most important job is getting the states that aren't part of the Amber Alert Consortium to join so we can get everyone focused on connecting to each other and the federal government. We can build the backbone from there."

The original concept behind the Amber Alert system was to bring the best technology to a system that didn't work very well.

"First we eliminated the time lag. Amber Alerts can be activated within 10 minutes of an initial report about a missing or abducted child," said Chris Warner, developer of the Amber Alert system and founder of Engaging and Empowering Citizenship. "We then geocoded the system so it knows who needs to get the alert and sends it only to whom the alert is relevant. It also uses prediction modeling to let other agencies know when they should be on the lookout and prepared to respond -- engaging people not only where the event happened, but also where it could potentially expand in the following hours."

Warner, Sander and NASCIO are now responding to the federal government's request to incorporate Amber Alert technology into All Alert. But while Amber Alert is one specific alert coming from one specific first responder group -- law enforcement -- All Alert will include multiple types of alerts from multiple first responder groups that are then passed to the public.

"The challenge is getting all the practitioners together and making sure we have a system that serves the needs of all the different interest groups," said NASCIO's Dixon. "But if we don't do this now, working together, the federal government and each state would eventually build their own separate systems. Trying to tie them all together at that point would probably take an act of divine intervention."

NASCIO's role is to help bring all 50 states and the federal team together to make a system that serves a wide variety of first responder groups and handles alerts from the very mundane to the very worst instances.

Dixon said private-sector players, including communications companies and broadcasters, have not been difficult to convince, because they see the All Alert system as a valuable service they can offer their customers.

"The early indications with Amber [Alert] is that private-sector companies almost clamor for the opportunity to do this," he said.

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer